On Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend the School of the Annunciation’s Guild Day at St Patrick’s Soho Square: ‘Go Forth, Friends of Christ: The Joy of the Gospel and the Missionary Option’. This was a full day conference exploring the New Evangelisation and how we might be able to respond to Pope Francis’ call in Evangelii Gaudium to be a Missionary Church. I’m sure other people will talk in detail about the topics discussed in the conference, but I wanted to note down (in a rather rambling way!) my impressions of the day as a whole.
Firstly, this was the first Catholic ‘event’ I’ve been to and it was wonderful to attend. Apart from my husband I only know a few practising Catholics – the majority of my close friends aren’t religious at all so certain topics are off limits, as I know they would think me mad! I am excited to be becoming a Catholic and am enjoying RCIA but at times it can feel like a bit of a lonely journey. Yesterday was something of an antidote to that feeling – it was reassuring to see so many committed Catholics who are passionate about their faith. I had the chance to catch up with some people I already know and to meet a few new people as well which was lovely.
Secondly, the talks were very interesting and the whole day felt positive and full of ideas for evangelisation. Personally I loved Caroline Farey’s talk on sacred art – she talked us through various altarpieces depicting the Annunciation, and uncovered layer upon layer of symbolism from Old and New Testaments which up till now I had been totally unaware of. I would love to know more about this and will certainly be studying liturgical art a lot more closely to spot the symbols and references! What a wonderful teaching tool this could be if more people understood these layers of meaning and passed on their knowledge, as they would have done in the past.
In the afternoon we had two talks on the New Evangelisation in the context of the Parish. Bishop Philip Egan from the Diocese of Portsmouth told us about the work his Diocese is doing to reach out and evangelise, and his ideas for how parishes can be restructured to make use of everyone’s talents and become truly missionary, reaching out not only to committed Catholics but to non-practising Catholics and non-Catholics as well. Finally, Father Alexander Sherbrooke from St Patrick’s gave a fascinating talk on the way in which his parish has tackled the call to evangelise. He used the Mysteries of Light as a template for the ways in which we should reach out. I particularly loved his point that Eucharistic Adoration must be at the heart of everything that we do – before making any decisions we must first adore Christ, and let ourselves be guided by Him. I hope I’m not paraphrasing too inaccurately as I didn’t make any notes!
This point about Eucharistic Adoration was brought home to me particularly strongly yesterday, as it is the first time I have actually taken part in it myself. We had two opportunities during the day – firstly before the Mass (celebrated by Bishop Egan) which took place halfway through the day, and secondly after the event finished, during Nightfever in the evening. I can’t quite describe the feeling of taking part in Eucharistic Adoration for the first time – I can only say that now I need to make more space in my life to spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament! It was one of the most peaceful times I have spent and it is wonderful to be able to lay one’s hopes and fears before Christ and simply to be, quietly, in His presence. To be there with a hundred other people all focussed on Adoration was an incredible feeling. And where better than St Patrick’s, which is a truly stunning Church with a beautiful Sanctuary.
And finally to Nightfever. I was in the Church for an hour or so while it was going on in the evening. When I was first told about this I was sceptical. Going out into the streets with lanterns and inviting people into Church to light a candle? In Soho? On a Saturday evening? But in the event I was amazed at the number of people who came into the Church. Some stayed for only a few minutes and lit a candle, some took a seat and stayed for longer. It was a beautiful, peaceful time and if this is someone’s only encounter with the spiritual this day, week or maybe even year, it will no doubt stay with them.
I have rambled on for a while; but there was a lot to take in and think about! True to the title of the event, it felt like a day filled with joy. Here’s hoping for many more.